AFTER ATSIC, WHAT? Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
What will happen with the ATSIC money when the organisation is thrown on the scrap heap in a year's time: That's a $28.4m question for Central Australia's economy.
That's how much the doomed commission is spending here a year.
If John Howard wins the Federal election ATSIC / ATSIS will be replace by an advisory body appointed by him.
If Mark Latham gets up it will be replaced by an elected body.
However, Member for Lingiari Warren Snowdon (Labor) can't say yet whether Labor's creation would be merely an advisory body, or again a decision making one, with its own money to spend on projects, as is had been the case with ATSIC.
That question has yet to be "fleshed out," says Mr Snowdon, and "will depend on the outcomes of discussions we're having with indigenous people."
ATSIC / ATSIS has two regions in The Centre.
In 2002/2003, the Alice Springs Regional Council, with 4670 Aborigines, spent $10.4m; Central Remote, with a black population of 8092, received $18m.
More than half of that went on the controversial work for the dole scheme, CDEP.
Additional ATSIC money came into The Centre that year by way of funding for "national and multi regional" initiatives.
These included a massive $2m for Imparja's satellite costs and "programming subsidy"; $1.2m for Imparja majority shareholder CAAMA; and a healthy $2.5m for "professional services to native title clients" delivered by the Central Land Council (CLC).
The Howard Government has said the $1b currently set aside for ATSIC / ATSIS is "quarantined" for spending on Aborigines, albeit through "mainstream" departments.
But Canberra is likely to take a hard look at how that money is spent.
For example, the subsidy for Australia's other two regional television satellite "footprints" is paid by the states.
CAAMA and Imparja, with ample sophisticated TV production equipment, and a commercial TV licence, should be making money, not needing handouts.
And the CLC should not be biting the taxpayer, but their native title clients who stand to make millions from real estate deals.
However, the big one is CDEP, swallowing nearly half of ATSIS' national budget.
The significance of the program to the Territory is huge compared to the rest of the nation: 8000 Territorians are on CDEP, including 1500 in The Centre.
The participation rate here is 50 times greater than in NSW (see also "Silent Syd scurries on this page).
With some exceptions, which include Ntaria (Hermannsburg) and Finke (Aputula), anecdotal evidence suggests that the CDEP is a mess whose principal benefit is to conceal actual unemployment, which is why governments of either persuasion have kept it alive for more than 30 years.
According to an ATSIS source the CDEP money allocated to a region can be moved from a project if there "is not the enthusiasm to participate".
But how would one know? There is no rigorous evaluation of the work done. The source explains that the managers keep time sheets – but time sheets for doing what?
The auditors compare time sheets to the payroll and participant schedules, on a spot-check basis.
And ATSIS, 10 times a year, samples payrolls and compares them to participant schedules.
But it seems the requirement is merely for the paper work to be convincing: there is no critical evaluation of the work done, nor the social impact of the program.
In many cases there isn't even an inspection of the jobs carried out.
MLA for Lingiari Warren Snowdon is a staunch defender of CDEP.
But he, too, admits the program "can be improved dramatically in many instances and it needs to be tied to training programs and a whole lot of other things" – as he says it was until the first Howard Budget in 1996-97.
Mr Snowdon says he has done work on CDEP "periodically" since it was introduced in 1972.
When Labor was last in government he was the Parliamentary Secretary for Employment, Education and Training and had responsibility for labour market programs.
Nevertheless, talking to Mr Snowdon about CDEP is not wholly rewarding.
This is, in part, his conversation with the Alice News on Sunday:-
NEWS: There is a broad perception that CDEP rarely leads to mainstream employment; imparts few skills; rorting is rife and rather than being a leg-up to bigger and better things, is widely regarded as a stigma.
Mr SNOWDON: That hypothesis is deeply flawed and very misinformed. The alternative is unemployment benefits, the real sit down money. I can take you to any number of Territory communities who absolutely swear by CDEP. My issue is getting people into training that has an outcome.
NEWS: What are the outcomes? For example, how many people on CDEP in Central Australia have moved into mainstream employment in the last three years?
Mr SNOWDON: How do I know, mate? I don't know and I shouldn't be expected to know.
NEWS: You should because it's seminal to the issue. How would you judge the success of CDEP if not by that yardstick?
Mr SNOWDON: You would judge it by a range of criteria, one of which is the availability of mainstream employment. Most of these communities have a limited number of jobs – I'm talking a handful.
NEWS: If there are no employment opportunities, which means people are stuck in CDEP, would it not be more honest to regard them as unemployed, which would ring alarm bells with any responsible government, which in turn would be compelled to act?
Mr SNOWDON: We have small economies but most of the communities in the centre of Australia don't have that capacity [to employ many people]. They don't have the resources.
NEWS: This happens in other rural communities as well. The economy fails and people lose their jobs. But they are regarded as unemployed, and it's recognised that something needs to be done. What would a new Labor government do about CDEP?
Mr SNOWDON: I would take the people in the scheme into my confidence and work with them and see how [the scheme] could be improved. I will make no judgment without comprehensive discussion with those people. I don't want to make an assertion about which I have no detailed knowledge.
What I do know is that a lot of people who are currently on the CDEP program have no other option because they don't have the skill sets to get jobs in the wider workforce. There is very little capacity in the CDEP programs for sufficient training to provide the skills required. If there are 3500 to 4000 Territorians between 13 and 18 who don't have access to schools, what do you expect the outcomes to be?
NEWS: You say getting people job ready is certainly not a state issue, it's a Federal issue, fair and square. Yet those skills are largely taught at school. The NT government, other than commissioning yet another report, has achieved remarkably little in bush education in its nearly three years in power.
Mr SNOWDON: There's been 26 years of bloody neglect by the CLP.
WORK FOR THE DOLE: SILENT SYD SCURRIES. Comment by ERWIN CHLANDA.
When is the Martin Government open and transparent?
When it feels like it.
Take, for example, Deputy Chief Minister Syd Stirling.
In August last year the Alice News reported about the notorious work for the dole scheme, CDEP.
We said if its participants were added to the jobless figures, as indeed they should be, the NT would be the employment basket case of the nation: 15 per cent of the labour force is, in effect, out of work.
We reported that nearly 8000 Territorians – 7.5 per cent of the labour force – are on CDEP, the highest participation rate in the nation.
The corresponding figure for NSW, for example, is 0.15 per cent, one 50th of the NT figure.
Mr Stirling not only knows all that, he also admitted to have castigated, when he was in Opposition, the CLP Government for the way it was using the scheme.
Mr Stirling was saying then that CDEP was "masking unemployment."
But lo and behold, once in government, Mr Stirling continued the deception, despite the program's widespread failure in getting people off the labour scrap heap.
Last August Mr Stirling gave us a meaningless response on the subject and declined to answer a number of questions.
Clearly, it was time to have a chat, and the News told his staff we wanted an interview.
That was eight months ago and our request has still not been met by Mr Stirling whose government, remember, was elected on a platform of transparency and freedom of information (see bottom of this page).
In the meantime many things have changed.
ATSIC, which spends almost half of its money on CDEP, is doomed.
Although its billon-dollar-plus budget has been "quarantined" for future "mainstream" use for Aboriginal people, it seems certain that the Federal Government – of either persuasion – won't be continuing the dog's breakfast CDEP has been.
For example, one Central Australian program involves some 300 people, hardly any of whom have done any work in years, yet are drawing a CDEP "wage" (around $217 a week).
These days they don't even have to turn up to collect their pay – it's being put directly into their bank account.
In fact, according to a reliable source, ATSIC was about to make CDEP funding conditional on achieving goals, but this was dropped when it was announced the organisation would be shut down.
Mr Stirling misses no opportunity of bragging about even the most minute, fraction of a per cent drop in the official NT jobless numbers.
To give the story some balance we want to ask him questions, including these:
What is his government doing to get these out-of-sight, out-of-mind CDEP workers, 520 of them in Alice Springs and 970 in the rural region (Central Remote), into meaningful employment, with a future, and a wage which a person can take care of their family on?
How many Territorians on CDEP have in the last three years moved into the mainstream workforce?
What strategy does he have for integrating the CDEP workers into the mainstream workforce and how is that strategy progressing?
What's his government doing to bring the education system up to speed, providing the "job readiness" so sorely lacking in many people?
It was clearly time for the News to take the initiative with silent Syd.
Last Friday he was hosting a bash at the Convention Centre to kick off the Alice Cup weekend.
We asked the NT government for the cost to the taxpayer of this bash but haven't received an answer.
When Mr Stirling stepped off the stage I asked him to give me the long outstanding answers – plus a few new ones.
"I don't want to do that tonight," said Mr Stirling.
"But I do," said I.
"You ask Mary [his media adviser]."
I'd asked his staff several times since last August but it was to no avail, I replied.
Mr Stirling: "I am at a social function.
"I want to hear the chairman and I don't want to be interrupted."
"OK, I'll talk to you after the chairman has spoken," said I.
I switched off my tape recorder and, and standing alongside Mr Stirling, listened to the speech by Alice Springs Turf Club chairman Kevin Hickmott.
But the moment the chairman finished his speech, Mr Stirling, as befits the Minister for Racing, and as though the starting gates had just snapped open, was off, in top form, hurtling to the other side of the room, into the arms of his minders.
Trouble is, correct weight he didn't get.
WHAT SYD STIRLING'S BOSS SAYS.
Shouldn't Syd Stirling be listening to his Leader?
In a statement grandiosely titled "New Directions For Good Government In The Territory", Clare Martin pronounced on June 19, 2000, the year before the ALP won the election: "Labor will bring new openness to Territory Government with measures to ensure public access to information, accountability of Ministers …"After 26 years in the halls of power, the CLP is allergic to scrutiny."
It seems it took Labor less than three years to get that way.
"This born to rule mentality means that Parliament rarely sits, questions simply aren't answered and Territorians don't even have a right to access Government files.
"This secrecy makes people cynical about their politicians.
"It leaves Territorians suspecting the Government is in it for themselves, not working to set a new direction for our community."Hear, hear!
FARM BOY'S HEART STILL BEATS IN CLP LEADER. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
When Opposition leader Terry Mills attended his first CLP branch meeting he was asked what he did for a living.
School teacher, he replied.
The branch member guffawed, "Mate, you're in the wrong place!"
The implication was that school teachers belong in the Labor Party.
Mr Mills of course doesn't agree but it's to his childhood on the family farm, rather than to his two decades in schools, that he turns for the roots of his values and political ideas.
University studies, teaching, 10 years as principal of the Palmerston Christian School, have smoothed any country edges but he retains the sincerity of manner and commitment to individual resourcefulness that you would expect of a farmer's eldest son.
He tells this story: when he was five years old he was swept away in a flash flood.
It had been a fiercely hot January day and his mother had taken him and his little brother David for a swim at the newly built pool in Mullewa, the nearest town to the family's wheat and sheep property in the semi-arid hinterland of Geraldton, WA.
A storm broke, sending them home early, but they got caught crossing a rapidly rising creek.
His mother lifted David out of the car and swam him across the creek but before she could return, the car still holding young Terry was swept away.
He can remember grabbing the steering wheel to try to gain some control. Luckily the car became lodged in some trees downstream and he was able to climb out and get to the bank.
In the meantime the alarm had been raised and people from around the district spent the night searching for him.
He saw their lights but thought they must be doing some night-time ploughing. It didn't occur to him that they would be looking for him.
Instead he did his best to find a house that he had seen and had rehearsed what he would say – could he please have some milk and biscuits and would they give him directions?
The next morning his father found the upturned car and everyone feared the worst.
Terry came across a ute and spied the sandwiches that its owner had left on the front seat. Despite being terribly hungry he didn't take them – he thought that would be wrong.
When he was found, after 14 hours spent in the open in just a pair of bathers, he wondered what the fuss was all about.
You can see this boy in the man. He doesn't like questions that draw attention to himself.
"How are you different from Denis Burke?"
He casts around for an answer but they would all have to start with "I am" and he just can't do it.
"What do you think?" he asks.
Even if I wanted to, I couldn't answer because like many people in Alice Springs, I don't yet know much about Terry Mills.
I've learnt that he surprised himself with his Year 12 results. He'd been destined to take over the farm and loved that life but so did his two younger brothers. If he went to university, that would make way for them.He began an arts degree, which he converted to an education degree.
He built on an interest in linguistics by studying Indonesian, developed a relationship with a prominent Indonesian family in WA and later travelled in Indonesia.
He's been married to Ros for 21 years, they have two children, Kristen who's studying physiotherapy at Curtin University, and Matthew who's a third year jackeroo with Stanbroke Pastoral Company in the Gulf country.
He grew up in a Catholic family and still considers himself a Christian without belonging exclusively to any one denomination.
He has "a personal faith" which gives him strength but won't be drawn further on the matter.
I'm interested in how he developed his values, I explain.
He returns to his family and their life in a rural community with a high proportion of Indigenous residents.
He went to school with Ernie Dingo, his father went to school with Ernie Dingo's mother, Bessie.
"In our family race didn't matter, it was the quality of the person that mattered."
In the Territory it's time to get away from the language of separateness.
"When Indigenous people say ‘me and my people' that rankles with me.
"It's as though I am not part of their world, as though I'm not as concerned as they are about education in Port Keats, for instance.
"We're all in this, not you mob and us mob.
"The word mainstream has a very different meaning in the Territory to anywhere else in Australia.
"There is strong Indigenous representation in the parliament.
"There are Indigenous representatives on every board, council and committee.
"I think we could start now to develop a dialogue where we say, ‘Let's all put our shoulder to the wheel and get on with it.'"
He turns to his farming background again: if there's a problem, fix it, using the materials at hand and, above all, your own capacities and resourcefulness.
His interests in politics awakened when he felt that Paul Keating had won a dishonest fight when he downed John Hewson over the GST.
Mr Mills says Mr Keating as Treasurer had believed in a consumption tax but campaigned against it as PM for cynical political reasons.
"He played the fear card," he says.
Mr Mills by that time had moved to Darwin, which he saw as a frontier city with tremendous potential, especially in its proximity to Asia.
The CLP was his obvious choice of party: "It had a political philosophy I could work with, a belief that you must empower individuals to take authority over their own lives."I support private enterprise in the truest sense of the word, not social engineering."
Who does he see as a role model amongst the former leadership of the CLP?He hesitates.
"I liked Shane Stone's vision for engagement with Asia. I liked Marshall Perron's approach to alcohol issues and his manner."
Weren't the CLP though renowned for playing the fear card in elections, especially on race relations and law and order issues?
Mr Mills is uncomfortable.
"There was a perception that the race card was dealt. I will not add to that perception."
He quickly moves on.
"I'm not one to look back, making judgements.
"The strongest message I get from the past is that the CLP had a clear direction on progress and development of the Northern Territory."
How did this involve Aboriginal people?
"A heck of a lot happened for Aboriginal people in those 25 years. Every community got a school, got health services.
"The sorts of problems the Territory's Aboriginal communities have can also be found in communities in Cape York and in the north of Western Australia.
"You can't lay those problems at the feet of the CLP."
What about the Berrimah Line that became entrenched in the CLP's quarter century reign?
"I grew up in a rural community. I know how people feel when they are remote from the power base."
The answer lies in listening to what people have to say and working with them to come up with practical solutions.
That there are solutions to all problems is an article of faith for Mr Mills.
But he doesn't think solutions are found in processes; they are found in action.
Shifting the power base or part of it would help overcome the Berrimah Line, he ventures. (It were CLP governments that moved the headquarters of the Tourist Commission and the Parks and Wildlife Service from Alice Springs to Darwin.)
As Chief Minister he would seriously look at what government departments could have their headquarters relocated to Alice Springs.
He sees tourism as the Territory's key industry but the marketing of "our world-beater product, from the Centre to the Top End, has fallen off the shelf".
Alice Springs needs marketing as a destination in its own right. A forum would come up with lots of creative ideas. One he has heard is lighting up the Gap: "That would look spectacular."
A pet project, although he's not a golfer, is to provide the golf course – "which is tremendously important for tourism" – with the resources it needs to fight salinity.
But none of this sounds like the key plank of an election platform? What would that be?
You guessed it: strategies to deal with antisocial behaviour and crime.
"In my surveys these are the issues that are of the strongest concern in the Territory and in Alice Springs."
The faltering economy and decline of population are others.
Mr Mills is committed to using the GST windfall – amounting to $400m over the last three years – for the purpose for which, he says, it was originally intended: the dismantling of inefficient state taxes.
He would reduce payroll tax, remove the HIH levy, and the stamp duty regime would be reviewed.
"We would create tax conditions for Territory businesses that would be the most attractive in the nation.
"If they're travelling lighter they'll be in a better position to create jobs and until you have meaningful job creation you don't have a social program that's worth talking about."
He would lobby for welfare reform – taking inspiration from Aboriginal leader and lawyer Noel Pearson – and work to develop enterprise offering meaningful employment on Indigenous communities.
"There's got to be a solution to the substance abuse, the suicide and violence on Indigenous communities and that solution will come from people and relationships.
"I'm taking this job very, very seriously.
"The only way that I'll get support is if people know that I've listened, have come up with a serious response and have provided leadership."
Will he be able to take the old guard with him in this new, responsive CLP?
"They have the support of their electorates," he says in a tone that comes close to stern.
He stresses the Indigenous majorities in the electorates of John Elferink (who is not one of the old guard) and Tim Baldwin, who is.
He acknowledges the difficulty of creating an impact while in Opposition but at the same time doesn't care to focus on "how to get into the newspaper this week".
"That's not my style.
"I'm laying very good foundations and soon the building will rise up."
SNIFFER ONSLAUGHT: ALICE ILL PREPARED. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
A meeting held to develop an "immediate response strategy" to the wave of inhalant abuse that hit Alice Springs recently revealed a town only partially prepared to deal with the problem.
Last week was quieter, with police putting that down to the return to school, the return of bush residents to their communities and the weather getting colder.
Superintendent (Alice Springs division) Trevor Bell agreed that a reduction in the supply of paint could also have contributed.
This followed the withdrawal from sale of paint at Mad Harry's and a concerted effort by long-term substance abuse worker Anne Mosey, in a project funded through the Central Australian Youth Link-Up Service (CAYLUS), to make other paint retailers aware of their responsibilities and liabilities if caught supplying to sniffers. (Ms Mosey says 90 per cent of urban sniffing is of paint and glues, not petrol.)
The lull last week would not have come too soon for senior staff at Family and Children's Services (FACS) who, according to the meeting minutes, had been overwhelmed by callouts from police dealing with sniffers, three to four nights a week for up to three to four hours at a time.
The police representative at the meeting, held on April 21,indicated that police felt they had few options other than to take sniffers to the station and contact the FACS worker on call.
He was recorded as saying that "99.9 per cent of the time there is nowhere to put the child" and "90 per cent of the time the family will not take them back".
There was discussion about prioritising some beds in the Safe Families house for inhalant clients, although this house is not due to open its doors till the end of June (a full two years after it was first mooted) and will only have a total of eight beds, for children aged eight to 12.
Another refuge specifically for inhalant abusers is planned, to cater for young people in their early teens. Its opening date is not yet known.This "accommodation response" is part of a project called On Track, being overseen by ASYASS (Alice Springs Youth Accommodation Support Services), whose existing refuge is for 15 to 17 year olds.
Staff for On Track are being recruited at present.
Their first priority will be to conduct research and consultation on "urban inhalant abuse", which is "relatively new, has shown a very sharp increase and put enormous pressure on youth services", according to ASYASS manager Susan O'Leary."We need information which is not anecdotal," says Ms O'Leary.
An education package will be developed from the research, aimed at parents, schools and community groups.
At the April 21 meeting the number of inhalant abusers in town was estimated at 20 to 30, although the police representative said the police have about 65 "on the juvenile list".The police representative was also recorded as saying "there is no legislative power to act".
However, existing legislation can be used effectively against petrol sniffing, according to Blair McFarland of the Central Australian Youth Link-Up Service (CAYLUS).
CAYLUS has particularly welcomed charges being laid under S. 18 of the Misuse of Drugs Act against a petrol dealer in Kintore, to be heard at the Kintore Circuit Court on May 14.
People attending the April 21 meeting, including the police representative, knew little about the relevance of this legislation and it was resolved that "case law precedents be investigated to determine whether such cases stand up in court".
Superintendent (southern division) Colin Smith, in charge of policing in remote communities around Alice including Kintore, says getting evidence for prosecutions under S.18 is difficult because sniffers want to protect their sources.
Sergeant Mark Nash of Police Prosecutions in Katherine, where several successful prosecutions have been made using S.18, reports a different experience.
He says most of the evidence for these prosecutions has been obtained in police record of interviews.
The majority of people being investigated were from remote communities around Katherine and were also facing other charges, such as theft or unlawful entry.
They were typically asked why they had unlawfully entered a place and would freely answer that it was to get petrol that they wanted to take back and share with "so and so" for sniffing.
Sgt Nash says sometimes evidence would also come from family members.
He says he has yet to see a person being charged who has not been sniffing themselves but has supplied petrol for sniffing in order to "keep the peace".
The legislation provides for stiff penalties for offences under S. 18 – up to a $2000 fine or up to two years imprisonment.
Sgt Nash says those convicted have generally been faced with a smaller fine, a fine and suspended sentence, or a community service order if that option existed.
In his view though, the deterrence value of such a prosecution against sniffers is limited without adequate detox and rehab facilities.
"The magistrate could send offenders to prison but how would their health problems be addressed. That question is asked every day of the week and no-one can come up with an answer."
Health and Justice Minister Peter Toyne attended the April 21 meeting and is recorded as saying that he will investigate through Caucus a legislative framework, including amendments to existing legislation, which may assist with apprehending inhalers.
Supt Smith argues strongly for sniffing to be made illegal, with a view to the courts being able to mandate treatment, but the "treatment" options for sniffers in the Centre are very limited. (Sgt Nash says there are none whatsoever in the Top End.)
There is no rehab facility in Alice Springs. Even DASA's detox facility is only available for those over 17 years of age.
There are four rehab facilities out bush, at Mount Theo, Injartnama, Ipolera and Ilpurla.
Mt Theo is reasonably well supported but the latter three could all do with more, according to Mr McFarland.
The April 21 meeting heard from Barry Abbott that he runs Ilpurla virtually single-handed.
Mr Abbott is widely respected for his "tough love" rehab of young people who have gone off the rails, which he offered without any government support from 1970 to 1988.
Since then he has received support, initially from the Territory Government under then Chief Minister Steve Hatton – "a good mate of mine".
More recently he has received Commonwealth funding of more than $100,000, but this is far from adequate for the task, he says, and this is confirmed by CAYLUS.
The amount does not even cover current operation costs let alone allow for the employment of an administrative assistant, essential for Mr Abbott who does not read or write.
Mr Abbott has been using his own vehicle for the last two months – to fetch stores from town and take young people to court – because there is no money to repair the service vehicle. And "half the time" he pays for his own fuel. His round trip to town from Ilpurla is almost 600 kms with most of the road "as rough as guts".He says he has eight sniffers at the moment, from 14 to 40 years of age. This could be increased to 15 and with more staff he could take up to 25.
He has part-time assistance but often has to deal with situations on his own and is starting to get "burnt out".
"When I've got the kids I've got them 24 hours a day."
When they first arrive they are medically assessed by a nurse from the clinic at Kings Canyon.
Mr Abbott gives them time, two to three weeks, to settle down.
"I don't get them to do anything, just talk and watch their condition."Once he sees they can think clearly and look after themselves he gets them to work with him on his property where he runs a small killer herd. They do fencing, check water, go hunting, mend gear in the workshop.
"I have petrol on my place but I've never ever had people sniffing there.
"No-one ever steals from me.
"I would have put through about 200 kids since 1970 and I only know of about 20 who went back to sniffing.
"I need them to stay with me for about 12 months. They come out good then, they know how to respect people."
TELSTRA AIMS FOR SOME GREAT AUSTRALIAN BYTES. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
In 10 years your mobile phone will handle more data than words, and will do it as fast and as cheaply for us in the outback as it will for our cousins in the city.
So says Michael Ossipoff, Telstra's chief crystal-ball gazer, who helps the communications giant spend $3.2b a year on research and development.
"Convergence" is the buzzword, which means your mobile will soon be used for much more than talking.
"In the next two to five years, our major investment will fall into three areas: wireless development, broad band and IT based networks," says Mr Ossipoff, whose official handle is Director of Telstra Capability, and who used to run his own business, Net Dynamics, acquired by Sun in 1998.
Prior to this, he was Director of Marketing at Lotus / IBM and has also worked with Hewlett Packard and NCR.
These are some vignettes from the brave new world of IT:
• You might be mustering cattle in the back paddock and you get the urge to check out the Australia vs South Africa cricket match.
You get your mobile phone out of the saddle bag, and watch the play on the colour screen, live.
• If you later come across a broken fence you can, with the camera built into your mobile, take a snap of it and e-mail it to the cattle station manager.
• Should you then fall off your horse and get hurt, you can get your mobile, which you've activated simply by talking to it, to log into a medical website.
Using the spoken word it will help you diagnose your injuries and suggest what to do about them.
How does your mobile know it's you who's talking to it?
Telstra has developed a program named Lyrebird which knows and mimics your voice, even allowing for accents.
There are clear applications for this in indigenous communities where English is the second language, says Mr Ossipoff.
• Back in town you're munching on a Big Mac while your laptop automatically links to the Telstra site.
It uses the wireless transmission service installed at all MacDonald's, and downloads your latest e-mails – no plugging-in needed.
• And during the night your mobile, equipped with a one gigabyte storage, retrieves over a "drip feed" a movie which you'll later watch on your integrated TV and computer system.
Forget the trip to the video store.
You've "hired" the movie, via mobile phone, of course, through a Digital Rights Management company.
It will allow you to watch the film twice and then it will chew itself up.
And you're paying for the bytes, not the seconds.
Mr Ossipoff says the appetite for data will grow enormously.
NAPSTA enabled music lovers to download from the web digitally-produced audio tracks.
When the service was closed down in Australia because copyright was being breached, internet traffic around the nation dropped by a whopping 20 per cent.
In response Telstra came up with a service that, for around a dollar a pop, allows you to download tracks into your iPod or computer, and pay the copyright fee to the appropriate owner.
Mr Ossipoff says use of high speed data links is addictive.
"Once you have a high speed service you protect it like crazy.
"It's like a mobile phone.
"Once you have one you never again don't have a mobile phone."
The mobile is also developing into a powerful device liberating you from the office, says Mr Ossipoff:
"Work is something you do, not necessarily a place you go to."
Telstra owns the second and third largest mobile phone networks in the world.
The only one that's bigger is the one in China.
Mr Ossipoff says broadband by cable runs past 2.5 million Australian homes.
ADSL runs past seven million homes.
There are now 550,000 broadband subscribers in the country, using a mix of cable, ADSL and satellite delivery.
There are 97,000 mobile phones in the NT: almost half the population uses one.
Clearly in the outback, the growing reliance on satellite for mobile phone communication will bring benefits.
Most population centres already have a service and the coverage gaps in between will disappear.
Telstra's Alice representative, Kaye Eade, says satellite phones have complete coverage already, albeit at a cost of about a dollar for 30 seconds, and $1000 for the hardware.
But she says growing use of satellites will lower these costs.
Also, multi-band phones will automatically choose the best available delivery method, satellite or earth-bound networks.
"If you live in Sydney, Alice Springs or on a cattle station, you can get a similar grade service, similar qualities, similar reliability for a similar price," says Ms Eade.
"That's our goal."
CUP AN ALL ALICE AFFAIR. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
The Alice Springs Cup proved to be an all Centralian affair when Nev Connor's Solario paying $15 scorched to the line a winner by three quarters of a length over Ken Rogerson's Edge to Edge, with Viv Oldfield's Smiling Eyes half a neck away third.For Connor the Cup was a first in his long and distinguished career at Pioneer Park.
In the running Son of Grace jumped from barrier seven a challenger for the lead , jousting with Rockhound. In fact it was Rockhound who led the field into the straight and, with Son of Grace fading rapidly, the charge to the line saw Edge to Edge loom, only to be overtaken by the fast finishing Solario, with Smiling Eyes storming home into third place.
The well supported Above All managed fourth place, while horses to disappoint were the favourite Duchovny, who tailed the field, and early challenger Son of Grace second last.
Earlier in the day Tim Norton on Bellanto cruised to the line by seven and a quarter lengths in the 1200 metre Centrebet Trobis Three Year old Class Six.
Visiting jockey Greg Childs then saluted in the Qantas Invitation Class Four Handicap over 1200 metres when he saw Edging Around to the line, a winner by two and a half lengths.
The 1600 metre 25th Anniversary of Self Government Class Four Handicap saw the Catriona Green trained Tjilpi live up to recent promise and score by a short neck over Bright Vision, with Lion Pride a head away third.
Alice connections celebrated yet again when top weight Chigwidden took out the Readymix Class Two Handicap over 1400 metres.The William Inglis and Son Red Centre Classic for Two Year Olds over 1200 metres then went north to Darwin connections when Our Last Resort lived up to favouritism, saluting by a head over Shirley's Boy from Leeches.The northerners also tasted victory in the Queen of the Desert Stakes over 1200 metres when Paul Denton scored on the aptly named Queen of the North.Centralians bit back well however in the 1000 metre ZIB Insurance Brokers Handicap , when Earth Legend ($13) went to the line over pace maker, and stable mate, Scotro, with Beau Master third.
In all, Cup day was a roaring success with the benefit of Sky Channel coverage vindicating itself. The totalisator turnover alone almost doubled when compared with last year's take. Next year one would expect that the presence of Sky would attract even more interest and competition to Pioneer Park
The Family Day on Saturday was particularly rewarding for the Maloney family when patriarch Vince trained two winners. To begin the day he had Moon God salute over the 1100 metre John Grice Memorial Class Three, followed late in the day when the lunging Everytime completed the double in the 1200 metre Wastemaster Class One Handicap.
The main event, the Schweppes Pioneer Sprint however was the race that captured the interest of all.
Peter Moody's Al Tayar, who had claimed favouritism as a result of three recent Pioneer Park premier performances, took all before him to win the classic by seven lengths.
In a truly soft win Al Tayar led from the barriers, with Darrowby Livewire on his outside. At the turn it appeared the race was to be an Alice Springs quinella with Al Tayar stretching out to take an unassailable lead and Darrowby Livewire holding second place. In the run to the post however Darrowby Livewire was swamped by the fast finishing Galiano, who had been backed in from huge odds to $8, and the top weight Gilded Star.
AUSSIE RULES: LEADERS WHITEWASH BATTLERS. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
After two weeks of intriguing Aussie Rules, the competition hit a low at the weekend when both Rovers and Federal felt the effects of a whitewash in their games against Pioneer and West respectively.
For Federal it was a matter of West scoring 20.15 (135) to 7.5 (47).
In the Rovers camp the blues were felt when Pioneer scored 25.22 (172) to 5.3 (33).
West had been tested in their first official run against South a fortnight ago, but with valued players rejoining the squad, were able to show a little more of their potential for 2004.
Federal on the other hand, having shown their supporters a glimmer of hope by downing Rovers in their first encounter, were missing their key attacking player Adrian McAdam who had Calder Shield commitments in Darwin.
Despite this, Federal was competitive in the first term scoring 4.1 to 4.3.
It was a different story for the remainder of the match however.
Kevin Bruce hit his straps and directed play through the half forward zone, bringing the running players into the game.
West hammered home 6.2 for the term while Federal were left languishing, only capable of adding 0.4.
The Feds only consolation in the third term was their ability to score a goal, while the Bloods proceeded to stitch the game up with a further 6.5.
In the run home West added 4.5 to end the game with 20.15 (135) while Federal were able to snare a further two goals, leaving the field on 7.5 (47).
Bruce bagged four goals for the match but created chances for many more as West had 11 players score majors.
Nathan Finn showed a welcome return to the side with four goals.
As in their first game, Damien Timms and Henry Labastida were key drivers and the on-ball attack by the Bloods really benefited from the return of Adam Taylor. West have a string of players still to run but the appearance of Ben Whelan indicated that if there are more recruits of his ilk, West will be a force to contend with.
Gilbert McAdam's Federal side, despite its loss, did have players who gave of their best.
Sean Brown played well and was rewarded with two goals.
Andrew Braedon again provided Feds with sting, and Sheldon Palmer and Patrick Ah Kit caught the eye at times.
Pioneer had 14 goal kickers in their 139 point victory over Rovers.
As with the earlier match, it was the underdog who played well in the first term.
At quarter time Rovers had 4.0 on the board, a point up on Pioneer 3.5, despite it being eight scoring shots to four.
From the break however Pioneer spent no time forging to an unassailable lead. Rovers didn't score in the second term while the Eagles notched up 7.5.
In the third quarter they extended the statistics to 15.16 to 5.2, and in the run home Pioneer showed no mercy by kicking 10.6 to a mere 0.1.
Again this week Ryan Mallard provided the target for Pioneer in front of goals.
Craig Turner dominated aerial duels; and the running Daniel and Wayne McCormack, and Matt Campbell crumbed the ball off the packs with consummate ease.
This weekend the fans will be treated to the second clash of the season between South and Pioneer.
Pioneer didn't appreciate their first outing defeat at the hands of their arch rival and will be out to avenge.
Meanwhile late in the day West will take on Rovers.
West no doubt will be another step closer to full strength and should prove to have too many guns for the young Blues.
A shock to the system. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
Everyone has values, convictions or beliefs of some kind or another.
If you think you're an exception, can I suggest that you pinch yourself in case you've been asleep for a while?
Like, since you were born.
Beliefs and convictions may be fundamental to the way that you see the world, but we all reach a point in life when they slide unnoticed to the rear part of our consciousness.
They go on to the backburner.
It's not that you don't still believe the same things and mouth the same words to demonstrate your commitment.
But you're not moved in the same way any more.
There are symptoms of this condition.
For example, you become more concerned about the colour scheme for your kitchen than the plight of asylum-seekers.
Perhaps you watch Lateline as something to do while you drink your cocoa rather than to find out about the issues of the day.
Or you make a vaguely religious statement without even hearing your own words.
I have a theory that this kind of life change coincides with the moment that you decide not to wear sports clothing at social occasions.
You realise that runners are for running. So you put the runners at the back of the cupboard and that's where they stay. Values on the backburner, sports clothing on the back shelf.
The coincidence means something.
Living a cosy life in a pleasant suburb of Alice Springs hastens the onset of this condition.
Until suddenly, an incident occurs that gives you a jolt and forces your submerged values back to the surface again.
Mine was two weeks ago.
I was waiting in a shop behind a young Aboriginal girl who was buying some lollies.
When she reached out for her change and turned to walk away, the shopkeeper held on to the gold coins between his thumb and forefinger and cupped a hand to his ear.
Apparently, this was supposed to mean that he expected her to say thank you.
A bit of playful banter with a regular customer, you might think, except that the man screwed up his face with suppressed menace that made me realise that he had chosen the wrong career.
He should have been a boxing promoter.
The young girl finally realised the problem, said the magic words and ran off into the evening gloom with her lollies and her coins.
The shopkeeper then looked up at the rest of us, seeking our appreciation for his efforts to maintain proper standards.
By this point I was as mad as hell.
If there is one thing I can't stand (actually there are several hundred things I can't stand) it is someone pushing their culture on to someone else.
Especially the more petty elements like saying "please" and not sitting on the ground in public.
But we customers averted our eyes.
The shopkeeper served the next person.
The incident was over.
I felt pathetic.
Once upon a time, I'd have a stand-up argument with someone like this, right there and then in the shop.
I would have suggested a dark place where he should keep his standards.
But, right now, I was probably just preoccupied with the colours for my kitchen (should I go for magnolia or rose white?).
I was mulling over this minor incident for the third day running when I heard the news about Bradley Abala.
I knew him as a focussed and energetic junior soccer player, someone who never seemed to tire.
The loss of Bradley changes us all.
Our petty worries now seem tiny.
The gap he leaves is huge.
So I finish with these inadequate words of appreciation for someone whose quiet maturity and enormous talent brightened the lives of so many people.
Sealing and selling the outback. COLUMN by ANN CLOKE.
On Thursday, Norman, my brother, asked if I'd like to join him on a little trip out bush. We went north, driving adjacent to our newly constructed railway line and turned onto the Tanami Highway, a narrow tarseal strip road bounded either side by rich red gravel, noting signs warning of dust, corrugations, cattle, and that the next service, Tilmouth Well, is 167 kilometres west.
It was a great start to the long weekend and perfect weather to head out of town into our majestic countryside.
On a personal note, it was also quality time with Norm, talking about life, marvelling at anthill formations, purple hills on a far horizon, majestic hawks feeding on recent road kill and the bright orange Desert Venturer coach which seemed quite large, but wasn't, when compared to fuel tankers, and a transport truck ferrying camels, that we ensured had complete right of way.
Norm's daughter, my niece, Emma, will be 20 on May 11.
"Can you believe that you arrived in Alice over 22 years ago?" I asked, as we clocked up kilometres and covered a range of topics, first impressions of the town, the people and the changes over the years.
When I'm "out there", in our wide open spaces, the memories of bush camps or going to Jim's Wallara Ranch and other remote places for long weekends, negotiating dirt roads, the journey and fun of arriving somewhere, being there, come flooding back.
And now everyone is really excited about the sealing of the Mereenie Loop.
It will certainly create employment and cut the drive time down for those who "do the circuit" every so often, but sealing the road isn't going to attract extra visitors to the Red Heart.
I have to wonder if the powers that be aren't losing the plot, because it's the old chicken and egg scenario.
Before visitors can actually drive the Mereenie Loop, they need to know about it.
The Red Centre has to be part of a proposed itinerary.
Editor Extraordinaire Erwin's expose into tourism (March 10) and follow-up interview (April 21) with Mayor Fran Kilgariff and her comments about council involvement and tourism in Central Oz have left a lot of people wondering about what is really happening.
It was refreshing, therefore, to learn that Council is considering the benefits of employing a tourism officer, someone who will liaise, and work in conjunction, with CATIA and the NT Tourist Commission.
The idea is a good one but, because the financing of this position will be subject to Government funding, it may be some time before anyone is appointed.
Some cynics have suggested that perhaps, as this special appointee will be dealing direct with NTTC, he/she could take over the bulk of CATIA's responsibilities, because CATIA doesn't seem to be doing much of late (we're still trying to recapture lost Ghan opportunities).
Friend Lori has just returned from overseas, travelling with her daughter Lia for a month around Canada and the States, after Lia's student exchange program in Toronto ended.
People loved their accents, asking where they were from.
Lori would say, "Australia, right in the middle, Alice Springs" and if there was no sign of recognition, she'd add, "near Uluru/Ayers Rock."
More often than not, Lori said, there were still blank looks.
The most important factor as we compete with all those other equally fabulous destinations, here and overseas, is to ensure that the Alice is marketed as the obvious choice/the only place to stay whilst exploring the rest of the Red Centre - Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon, Glen Helen and the Western Macs.
If we are able to do this successfully now, then in the future even intrepid travellers will ignore the promises and allure of the greatest 4WD adventure into the wilderness and beyond, to "drive the loop", making the Alice the base from which to explore the rest of Central Oz, by then totally accessible by sealed roads.
And David and I will continue to promote the Alice and environs to everyone we meet in the east and wherever else we go.
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